G4S the stinking shambles of privatisation

‘Utter shambles’, ‘fiasco’, ‘chaos’, ‘debacle’ – no epithet, it seems, was too strong for the British media in describing the failure of private security company G4S to meet its commitment, on a £284 million contract, to provide 13,700 security guards for the London 2012 Olympics.

But it was the disgraced Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt – fresh from his own debacle over BSkyB and perhaps light-headed with relief at finding himself still in post – who hit the nail on the head when he described it as ‘completely normal’ for contractors to break their promises on major projects. In the Through-the-Looking-Glass world of private outsourcing, where accountability exists only to shareholders, greed, incompetence and sharp practices are indeed ‘completely normal’. Cat Alison reports.

G4S – securing injustice

In the first week of July, just three weeks before the Olympic Games were due to start, concerns began to emerge that G4S was failing to meet its commitments to provide enough security guards for Olympic venues – something the company strenuously denied. However, within days G4S was forced to concede that it had only 4,000 guards in place – with a further 9,000 ‘in the pipeline’. Candidates who had been through the recruitment process reported spending their own money on training and travel – only to be offered shifts they could not do miles from where they’d applied to work, or no shifts at all, leaving them seriously out of pocket. Others said that, with just 14 days to go, they had received no training, no uniforms and no schedules. Allegations also surfaced that some recruits couldn’t write their own names, had no references, and had to be prompted by G4S officials at every stage of the application process; in an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme on 14 July, Nick Buckles conceded that he didn’t know whether all the recruits could speak English. It is clear that G4S is exploiting those desperate for work, at any price and in any conditions. There are indications that G4S may also be using its notorious involvement in the government’s Workfare programme to use unpaid labour – adverts for an interview day surfaced on the DirectGov website in February under the heading ‘G4S-Olympic-recruitment’ mentioning no salary and stating, ominously, ‘this is not a job but you may be interested’. No wonder G4S cannot guarantee that its recruits will even turn up. On 16 July, just 20 out of a promised 300 reported for duty at a number of Surrey Olympic venues.

And while the fiasco may cost the company between £35m-£50m in meeting the costs of drafting in between 3,500-4,000 police and army to make up the security deficit, that is peanuts to a company with an annual turnover of £7.5bn. In any case, Nick Buckles has made it clear he expects to keep the £57m ‘management fee’ for delivering any guards at all. His annual salary last year was £830,000 but even if he is fired he will walk away with a shares and pension pay-off of between £12m and £14m (courtesy of the G4S remuneration committee chaired by former Met Commissioner Paul, now Lord, Condon).

And yet Buckles had the brass neck to tell the select committee that ‘my first priority is to make sure that my company comes out with its reputation intact’. This is how the largest security company in the world has made just some of its millions:

• Running prisons and immigration centres in Britain, with high levels of documented abuse. A record 773 complaints were lodged against G4S in 2010 by detainees, including 48 claims of assault. In July, it was announced that no charges would be brought against the G4S goons who ‘restrained’ Angolan Jimmy Mubenga so violently while forcing him onto a deportation flight in October 2010 that he collapsed and died. The company had previously been warned by whistleblowers about the use of potentially lethal force against detainees.

• Equipping Israeli prisons and providing security services to several ‘security prisons’ at which Palestinian prisoners, including children, are regularly subjected to torture and ill treatment.

• Providing equipment and services to Israeli checkpoints along the illegal Apartheid Wall.

• Punishing welfare claimants – G4S has a potential £250m DWP ‘welfare-to-work’ programme. It won the contract on the basis of a bid promising to send a field operative round to bang on a claimant’s door within two hours if they proved uncooperative.

• Becoming the first private company to open and run a prison in Britain, and exploiting the cheap, captive labour of prisoners.

The privatisation rip-off

But simply to demonise G4S is to miss the point. There are plenty of other snouts in the trough, like A4e which handled contracts worth millions of pounds to provide non-existent jobs to claimants. Or Close Protection UK, given a government contract to provide Jubilee security ‘jobs’ to unpaid claimants, who were then bussed in from around the country and forced to sleep under London Bridge. Or, as Seumas Milne describes in The Guardian (18 July 2012), ‘the shipping of vulnerable children half way across the country to private equity-owned care homes in Rochdale’ or ‘the exorbitant private finance initiative to build and run schools, hospitals and prisons which ... will cost up to £25bn more than if the government had paid for them directly’. This guzzling up of public money is the ‘completely normal’ end result of what was hailed as ‘the golden age of outsourcing’. In total, contracts worth at least £80bn are currently farmed out to private providers by national and local government, with a rise to around £140bn predicted by 2015 (The Economist, 21 July 2012).

These companies have no loyalty except to their shareholders; their ‘savings’ are based typically on cutting already low-paid workers’ wages, attacking their rights and working conditions, and cutting corners. And whatever spluttering complaints come from ministers now, private companies provide lucrative consultancies for life after Westminster – former Labour Home Secretary, now Lord Reid, is reincarnated as G4S consultant, for example. What the current G4S debacle exposes is the myth that outsourcing public services to private companies has anything to do with ‘value’, ‘savings’ or ‘efficiency’; it is, instead, a massive swindle, stitched up between different sections of the ruling class to enrich themselves at the expense of the working class.

Welcome to London 2012: the most militarised Games ever

The extra 3,500 soldiers drafted in to cover security at the Olympic Games will join 13,500 troops already deployed in the biggest mobilisation of military and security forces in Britain since World War II – a number greater than are currently on active service in Afghanistan.

There will also be record numbers of police and some 1,000 armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 teams of dog handlers, as well as however many private security guards G4S does eventually come up with, patrolling the perimeter of the main Olympic zone, which is protected by an 11-mile, 5,000-volt electric fence.

In addition, Rapier surface-to-air missiles have been stationed on top of a block of residential flats in London’s East End, one of six such sites around the capital that includes Blackheath in southeast London.

The Royal Navy’s largest ship, the 22,500-tonne helicopter carrier HMS Ocean will be moored on the Thames at Greenwich for the duration of the Games and the assault vessel HMS Bulwark will be moored in Weymouth, home of the sailing events. New checkpoints and police control centres have been set up across the capital. These are shaping up to be the most heavily militarised Games ever, with security costs that have spiralled to over £550 million.

Cat Wiener

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 228 August/September 2012


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